Denver Schools Chief to Be New Senator

Posted January 2, 2009 at 1:59pm

Colorado media were reporting Friday that Michael Bennet, the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, will be tapped to replace Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) in the Senate assuming Salazar is confirmed as President-elect Barack Obama’s Interior secretary.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) could announce his intention to appoint Bennet as soon as Saturday, according to several media outlets.

By choosing Bennet, Ritter has opted for a savvy policy wonk with no electoral experience. Several more politically seasoned Coloradans were also considered possibilities for the Senate appointment.

Bennet has spent three years as the reform-minded superintendent of the Denver schools, where test scores have increased, particularly for minority students. Prior to that, he served for two years as the chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who also was reportedly a finalist for the Senate appointment.

Before joining the city government, Bennet, a lawyer by training, served as managing director for the Anschutz Investment Company in Denver, where he had direct responsibility for the investment of more than $500 million. According to his biography on the Denver Public Schools Web site, he led the reorganizations of four distressed companies including Forcenergy (which later merged with Denver-based Forest Oil), Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theaters, which together required the restructuring of more than $3 billion in debt.

Prior to moving to Denver, Bennet served as counsel to the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration.

Bennet earned his bachelor’s degree in history with honors from Wesleyan University and his law degree from Yale Law School, where he was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal.

He is expected to run for a full six-year term as Senator in 2010 – and because he has no experience running for office could be one of the most vulnerable Democrats on the ballot next year.

Bennet’s pending selection was applauded by Michael Huttner, executive director of ProgressNowAction, a leading liberal group in Colorado.

“I have known Michael for many years as someone who has tremendous integrity and epitomizes Colorado values,” Huttner said. “He has distinguished himself as a talented and dedicated public servant who can work with people across the political spectrum.”